The perfect story of Kemba Walker’s return to Madison Square Garden will have an imperfect ending. New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters the Bronx native will be out of the rotation going forward. The move makes basketball sense, even if it sours the narrative of Walker’s homecoming quite a bit. The Knicks are downright awful defensively when he’s on the court and those stretches have lost the team games. There’s no path back to the court for Walker unless the injury bug strikes, and it seems logical that the Knicks would look for a trade partner.
Walker still has something to offer offensively as a great shooter, he’s shooting 41 percent on 5.1 attempts per game from deep. He can be a sixth man spark plug for the right team, as long as it is willing to deal with load managing Walker’s knees, a requirement at this point in his career. He’s only making $8 million this season, a far more moveable contract than when he was on a max deal. If the Knicks don’t want him, someone probably will. Here are four possible options.
Bleacher Report’s A. Sherrod Blakely is reporting that the Rockets may be interested in a Walker-for-John Wall swap. This makes a lot of basketball sense. Wall really wants to play this year and the Rockets have yet to adhere to that request. He’d have to exert effort on the defensive end for the first time in years, but he’d be great at setting the table offensively and can bail the Knicks out when Julius Randle isn’t on, which is becoming more common this year. The problem here is money. Wall is making $44 million this season, and the Knicks would need to match salaries in order to trade for him. Walker and pieces won’t get it done financially. This would require a third team unless the Knicks are giving up key rotation pieces, which doesn’t seem likely.
Why not add another marquee name, right? Walker can offer what the Lakers need desperately, and that’s shooting. He will make their defensive problems worse, which is an issue, and a point guard rotation of Russell Westbrook and Walker is about six years too late to be good. But on the other hand, Los Angeles is perennially all-in as long as LeBron James is around and won’t hesitate to shuffle the roster around him in order to make the team better. The Lakers would need to wait until December to execute any trade, given how many of their contracts on the books are recent free agent signees, but it wouldn’t be hard to cobble together $8 million. This isn’t likely right now — but if the Lakers don’t improve, it’s a move worth keeping an eye on.
The Spurs are the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA by just about every available metric, and Walker would offer immediate relief. The stolid team defense in San Antonio combined with a few stingy point guards could cover for his defensive deficiencies in short stretches. Gregg Popovich is a guy everyone wants to play for and could rehabilitate Walker’s value to flip for a younger piece this offseason. Like the Lakers, the Spurs would have to wait a while before they can trade some of their free-agent contracts from this past offseason, but it makes a lot of basketball sense and would help the Spurs win games in the waning Popovich years.
The Nuggets are in the Twilight Zone with two of their three max contract players out for the foreseeable future due to injury. That hasn’t stopped Nikola Jokic from having another MVP-caliber season. Would trading for Walker fix their problems? No. No, it would not. But it’s better than doing nothing and potentially wasting a year of Jokic excellence. Denver would have to give up some young pieces to salary match but most of those young pieces aren’t contributing right now even with the injuries riddling the roster. Again, not a move that will be made immediately, but if the Nuggets are losing despite big Jokic numbers as the deadline nears, watch out.